Los Gatos Elementary School Sexual Abuse – Was it Preventable?
The sexual abuse of children in California’s elementary schools is never acceptable. But these situations become even more disturbing when it’s clear the school could have done something to stop it. There have even been situations in which school staff were aware that children were being abused and yet failed to speak out or stop the misconduct from occurring. A similar debate is raging over the recent sexual abuse that occurred at Blossom Hill Elementary School in Los Gatos. According to a lawsuit filed against the school, various staff members – including the principal – were receiving reports of inappropriate touching and other concerns. If these school leaders failed to act, they will likely be held accountable.
The Abuse at Blossom Hill Elementary School Explained
In December 2021, it was reported that a teacher named Joseph Brian Houg was sentenced to a total of 35 years in prison for sexually abusing children under his care. The individual had been teaching at Blossom Hill Elementary School in Los Gatos, where he also acted as the school’s theater director. Immediately, the Superintendent of the Los Gatos Union School District claimed that they were completely unaware of Houg’s criminal conduct.
The teacher was initially arrested back in 2020 after two 13-year-olds came forward and accused him of sexually abusing them over Zoom calls. This was of course during the pandemic when teachers in California were instructing children in virtual settings. However, this was just the first accusation that he faced, and there were many others as children found the courage to come forward. In the end, he pleaded no contest to 10 felony counts of child molestation and three misdemeanor counts of child annoyance. All of his victims were male, although he apparently “bullied” female students as well.
Even back in 2021, parents were accusing the school district and the Elementary School of not taking enough action. One mother claimed that she had reported Houg’s misconduct to the principal as early as 2003 – although no action was taken.
The Resulting Lawsuit
After Joseph Brian Houg was put on trial for his crimes, it became clear that he had sexually abused 10 boys over a period of 17 years. Such a protracted pattern of abuse raised many questions:
Why did the school not become aware of Houg’s abuses? Why did they fail to stop this?
These questions have formed the basis for a lawsuit against the school district, and plaintiffs are now claiming that the district was aware of Houg’s misconduct. The Superintendent is now claiming that no one covered for Houg or protected him in any manner, but what happens if it becomes clear that the district was made aware of the abuse? Clearly, this would indicate negligence at the highest level, and the district would almost certainly be sued for millions of dollars.
As it stands, things are not looking good for the Los Gatos Union School District. The lawsuit has shown that at least four parents went directly to the principal of Blossom Hill Elementary School with complaints about Houg. These complaints were issued between 2009 and 2014, with two sets of parents voicing concerns about Houg inappropriately touching their sons. Despite these complaints, the principal seems to have taken very little action – instructing Houg to be “mindful” and avoid touching children in the future. However, he was never formally disciplined in any way.
The lawsuit also claims that there were many other complaints issued by parents, but that the vast majority of these complaints were never officially recorded by the school. These complaints involved harassment, humiliation, and bullying of students. In a few cases, parents forced the principal to transfer their student to a different class. In one deposition, a parent stated:
“None of it should ever happen by a teacher. The school district knew this and let him stay there, let him have access to children. They knew it. They knew it. They knew it.”
Experts say that these obvious concerns raised by parents should have been “red flags” for the school district. A psychologist who specializes in child abuse also stated:
“Think of how much power an elementary school teacher has over a child. A child is not apt to resist touch, is not apt to question [the teacher], even if they make them uncomfortable.”
The lawsuit claims that the school district failed to take action when it became aware of the abuse. Plaintiffs are also asking that the school district train teachers on a variety of subjects, including red flags and telling parents about their right to file complaints. The district denies all wrongdoing and has even filed a countersuit.
The Importance of Awareness in Injury Lawsuits
So, why is it so important to establish that the school district was aware of the abuse? Here is the thing: Whenever you sue a property owner, manager, or any other entity for allowing abuse or injury to occur, you must show that they were aware of the danger. For example, if a property owner is unaware of someone trespassing on their land, they cannot be expected to protect that person from harm. In the same respect, a school district cannot be expected to fire a teacher if they are completely unaware of the abuse this teacher is committing.
But once the defendant becomes aware of the danger, they are legally required to take the necessary steps to address that hazard. If these plaintiffs can prove that the Los Gatos Union School District was aware of the sexual abuse, then they have no excuse and therefore must be held liable for the damages suffered by Houg’s victims.
Where Can I Find a Sexual Abuse Attorney in California?
If you have been searching for a qualified, experienced sexual abuse attorney in California, look no further than Mary Alexander & Associates, P.C. Over the years, we have helped numerous victims across the Golden State – including sexual harassment victims, injury victims, and many others. We know that child abuse is never acceptable, but these crimes become even more inexcusable when they are committed by the people we trust. Schools should be held accountable for abusing this trust, and parents have every right to take legal action. Book your consultation today, and you can explore your legal options in more depth.